Brush with an artist who remains modest about her prowess

Shabnam Anand Singh, an artist and designer practising since 1978, has exhibited her work in several places from London to New York and Singapore, and the Indian cities of Delhi and Bombay. Her work has found place in many private collections, from senior business executives to commissions from prestigious hotel groups in Hong Kong and Singapore. Shabnam tells Humra Quraishi why she favours the theme of flowers and uses watercolour and acrylic as her preferred medium for painting

Almost three years back whilst attending a Literature Festival in Dehradun, I saw an attractive woman making a quiet entry before sitting all too quietly. Till, of course, with introductions over, we were asked to join for tea or snacks or whatever was there to munch or crunch. As far as I can recollect she ordered only lemonade, explaining that she was coming straight from the dentist’s so wouldn’t be able to eat a thing …And before she left we exchanged contact details. And whilst I scribbled mine on an untidy piece of paper, she handed me a visiting card with red poppies or hibiscus splashed cross it.

She didn’t speak much of her artistic prowess and it’s only later, after she’d left, I realized that she was the well -known Dehradun-based artist  Shabnam Anand Singh.

I was destined to meet her once again, at the India Habitat Centre. I’d gone there to meet a friend and as I was rushing inwards, I saw her exhibiting her beautifully attractive works — flowers in those varying hues and colours. And once again she spoke very little of her works — as though making sure that her works did all the talking!

And as I went about the art gallery where her works were displayed, I saw this contrast — water colours and acrylics bringing about life on the canvas, though she herself looked sad, her eyes carrying definite strains of sorrow. And that’s when I asked her to detail what’s made her paint with such enormous intensity so as to liven the canvas with life, whilst her own life seemingly saddled with struggles.

Yes, she’s been through challenging times. Yet standing on, carrying on, with much grace and fortitude. Perhaps, her artistic prowess coming to her rescue… each time those lows got tough and tougher to handle she painted away …not letting pain intrude into her creativity, she’s been at her creative best, carrying on in that quiet gentle ongoing way. To quote her –

“In 1978, having completed college education from Delhi, I started out as a textile designer in a design studio in London. Living in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, two years later, with the arrival of my first son, I decided to work from home and continued with textile designing specialising in the floral theme. Life moved on and my second son was born in 1982. with my hands full with home and a young family, and unable to spend the required time for specific projects, I decided to paint and exhibit my art whenever I was able to, which freed me from time bound restrictions. Held my first exhibition at the local art gallery, Gallery One Eleven in Berkhamsted…Over the following years continued to paint and exhibit in Herfordshire and London.In 1988, we decided to bring the boys to India so they would have the chance to become familiar with their Indian culture and grow up knowing their family in India. That brought my art to India too, and in 1989/90 I exhibited at the Shrishthi Art Gallery at the Sheraton in Delhi and then a solo show at the India International Centre. Few more exhibitions followed in Delhi until we moved lock stock and barrel to Hong Kong in 1992! …While in Delhi, signs of personal stress started to show in small but significant ways, and my painting took on a peculiar style. Unaware and thus unable to guide my thoughts, I painted to release emotions, often painting late into the night, subconsciously selecting colours that felt soothing to me. The flowers that I painted then, I remember clearly did have one thing in common, and that was that each of them had either a petal dropping or broken!”

And though her paintings were going places, but her own personal life was going through turmoil. “As with every high there is usually a low that comes in, and i was no exception! My personal life was not as bright and cheerful as my flowers, taking a rapid downward slip. Arguments were had, tears were shed, pain was felt and decisions were taken. My art took another tumble, but it remained my faithful friend to get me out of the dark times, help me see the positives and release any negative emotions of the time.”

As she further details, “A brief return to Mumbai and Dehradun in 1993 helped reorganise my thoughts and rearrange my life. I moved back to England, with my sons back in their old school and me in my new role as mother and father rolled into one. A Swiss chalet style garden building served as the perfect studio for my art in Berkhamsted. Alone, but not lonely I loved being in that studio, with my canvasses paint and music; thinking, planning, and healing all at the same time. Those were testing times, but they also strengthened me no end, and I painted with a different energy. Bright reds and fiery oranges on the one hand and pure whites and gentle blues on the other. My flowers looked bigger and bolder, friends loved and appreciated my new style of painting, which encouraged me to find exhibition spaces yet again. I returned to my local art community in Berkhamsted and exhibited in group shows. One such group show, under the banner of British Artists took me to Soho, New York. Several exhibitions were held over the decade while our young boys turned into young men, from school to university to jobs! In a strange kind of way, we were all growing together….the boys with their natural progression and my art through a process of trial and error !I had set up a small greeting cards company in England, which did well along side my exhibitions. By 2005, aging parents in Dehra Dun, grown up sons who were not in constant
need of care anymore, brought me back to India. I would spend more time with my parents, continue with my painting and the weather would be better suited too!”

Shabnam has been busy exhibiting her works in India and abroad and this coming Spring her works will be seen in London … her flower-paintings holding sway.